Tarquin, Queen of the Night

Quollgirl is my Australian daughter. She rarely blogs (I need to take lessons in blogging restraint from her) but when she does, she writes a treasure. I hope you enjoy meeting Tarqui and her splendid humans.



The Queen of the Night hated me from early kitten-hood.

‘Look’, said Andrew, holding out the tiny ball of fluff, ‘she’ll fit into the palm of your hand’. The bleeding stopped eventually, but the emotional damage was done.

Pete, Tarquin’s littermate, was easier to handle, and would follow me like a dog to the neighbour’s house when I went for a drink after coming off night shifts. He eyeballed me with devotion, even when I didn’t have chicken, and would purr if I checked his ears for ticks or his belly for fleas.

Andrew moved the whole pack down from Townsville in his little white van. Lupa the cattle-dog sat on the front seat, Pete lay on the dashboard like some eccentric dash-mat, and Tarquin, above such silliness, sequestered herself in the back and thought dark thoughts about the illusory nature of happiness and the passing of time. Or maybe…

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Goodbye, morselsandscraps

I've been blogging at morselsandscraps for three years, I've used up most of my blogging space at that address and I've learnt a lot about blogging. So I'm migrating to a new address, where I'll continue paying tribute to Potato Point and all the pleasures that are within my reach from here. I've developed some wonderful connections through morselsandscraps, and I hope my followers will migrate with me to share my photos, ruminations, ramblings and miscellanea on snippetsandsnaps.

My first blog at the new address will launch an occasional series that will eventually include 83 Eurobodalla beaches.

My new address is


Please visit me there and remain my valued companions.


On Nerrigundah Ridge



If you want to walk with me this Sunday morning, you’ll need sturdy walking boots and an even sturdier walking stick, preferably an old friend made from spotted gum and smoothed over the years by the grip of your sweaty palms. The terrain is rough and rocky, but the rewards are tremendous. The air is palpable and the silence intense. Mountains loom beyond the trees, and the gullies drop steeply from the dirt road. It’s only fifteen kilometres from yesterday’s sandy walk, and it is a completely different world.

Watching my footing with extreme care, I climb up the rocky ridge, through lichen-covered rocks, over fallen trees and through fountains of grass. Rocks wriggle under my feet, but my walking stick steadies me. At the top of the ridge I begin to look for sprays of rock lilies, a pilgrimage I make nearly every year in spring. They grow mostly on rocky outcrops, cunningly positioned out of the reach of marauding animals and therefore difficult for humans to get at too. I proceed with extreme caution, sitting down and bracing myself against the rough rock-face before I start photographing. The road is far below now.

The drive back home is slow, and I notice signs of spring flowering: white paper flowers and wonga vine; puple hardenbergia, kangaroo apple, and flag lily (still elegantly furled); pinky-purple indigofera; and creamy brush kurrajong.

Today’s gourmet meal, brunch by the time I eat, is kushari and salad, much of it plucked from the new garden thriving beyond the water tank, including year-round tomatoes.


Watch out for wriggling rocks


My shadow proves that I was there


Out to the Great Dividing Range


Ridge conglomerate


Rock decorations


Rock orchid buds


Thelychiton speciosus


Spotted throats


Orchids and grass


Thelychiton habit ... and the pesky morning light


More Thelychiton


On the rocky hillside above the road





Beyond the bombing log



This morning I walked along the river bank beyond the bombing log. The track wound around under huge casuarinas and between vast mounds of periwinkle vine, and then dropped down to the sandy tracts left behind by many floodings. A chilly morning became a warm midday, and the isolation tempted me to amble topless, delighting in the unaccustomed feel of the breeze along my spine below the shoulder blades. The casuarinas made shadow patterns in the humpy sand. Rocks, casuarina needles and intricate casuarina cones congregated in hollows left by receding water. A little creek meandered into the river between banks shaped like the formations at Lake Mungo. I sat on the sandy bank in the shade to enjoy solitude and peace.

There was no silence: there rarely is. Birds chirped, chirruped and warbled. The prelude to a kookaburra's laughter faded into nothing. A black bird – a bowerbird? – flew overhead, carrying the heavy rhythmic breathing of his wing beat. A cow mooed and the wind played continuo in the top of the casuarinas, a sound like the music of rapids. There was subtle movement everywhere: the sand around the tip of my walking stick; the swoop of a swallow; the steady flight of a dragonfly; the ripples set circling by minute insects hitting the water surface; the wind-shivers on the surface of the water; and the slow ongoing movement of the river, still running after recent rain. I could just hear the occasional swish of a car along the river road and the clatter as a vehicle crossed the wooden bridge on the road over the mountain.

My footprints weren't the only ones marking the sand. There was the herring-bone stitching of bird claws; the grooved track of a shell-fish; the deep three-piece bound of a kangaroo; the continuous slither of a reptile.

As I walked back along the track under those giant casuarinas, I saw the swish of a tail disappearing, a small rodent, or maybe even a snake. I shook the sand out of my shoes and drove back up the hill for a gourmet lunch, a promite and leaf-litter sandwich and a mug of hot tea.
















The river of my children’s childhood


The huge tree is bare, but budding. Forty years ago when we first arrived in the Eurobodalla it was a small sapling, enclosed by a wire cage to protect it from dairy cows.



Just below the tree, about a kilometre from the bush block where my children grew up, the Tuross River makes its way to the sea. At the moment it flows gently, the sound of the mini-rapids just audible from the bridge. Sometimes it roars along, rising over the bridge, covering the riverside reserve, and once dramatically inching its way up the hill where we used to have a market garden. In severe drought it wavers to a bare trickle. Always it winds its way through the autobiography of my family.



On baking summer afternoons long ago we headed down to the deep pool near the jumping log. Little heads bobbed around in the shade of the casuarinas: arms flapped energetically, supported by yellow floaties.The big girl from the farm across the road appeared and soon the eldest daughter was swimming confidently under her no-nonsense tutelage. As the years passed, the older kids scrambled down the bank through brambles to the log and jumped off with a mighty splash. One afternoon we shared the snorkels and goggles and practised underwater observation on the very long eel, who retreated amongst the tree roots to escape the crowd.

During severe drought, the river all but disappeared. The farmer over the road dug a deep narrow channel and suddenly there was water. The children loved lying back and being carried along. Brown Surprise, on the other hand, thought they were drowning and ran up and down above them barking madly. At the end of the day, we’d take down barrels to collect water: our thousand gallon tank was nearly empty and there were six of us drawing on the limited supply. When a nit infestation invaded the house, we took all the bedding to the river, and washed it there. Our kids delighted in telling their townie classmates that they were drinking our bath water and washing water.


Slowly the kids grew up. Soon they were old enough to ride their bikes down to the river to meet their mates, and get up to all sorts of mischief. At night, they camped on the stretch of sand and occasionally went eeling. They discovered that a bread and butter knife was no use for eel-murder and threw the eel back to the roots below the water.

One day they rescued a baby crane from the sandy bank. They christened him Spike, after his hostile headgear rather than his excessive beak. He adopted their father as his, and decided the laundry was his nest. He attacked feet if they were bare when he was hungry, clacking at them sideways. If he squawked and clacked enough, Dad would stuff mince meat down his throat till his neck looked like a blocked vacuum cleaner hose. Then he was bunged outside before he began shaking his head to check that it was properly dead and dispersed it in a rough circle around him. When his neck was empty, he’d run around in circles, wings extended, squawking. His diet was obviously lacking, because he got rickets, staggering around on his knee joints till we dosed him on pentavite and sunshine. One morning he woke everyone up by systematically flinging and pinging drill bits he’d found in an ice cream container against the washing machine and soon after he swallowed a bolt from the tool box. My daughter stuck her fist down his throat and removed it, and then fed him milk to soothe the lacerations. He finally disappeared on New Year’s Eve, although there have been family tales of encounters with a crane who “seemed to know me.”

In the days of the market garden, I spent a lot of time by the river. I pulled up carrots and beetroot from the rich dirt of the river flats and took a load to wash, dragging it in a basket down the grassy track. At the end of a hot busy day picking, planting or weeding, we’d all fling ourselves in for a cooling wallow.

Immersed in post-separation misery, I set out to paint the house. After a morning session with the paint brush, I’d take myself down to the waterhole and plunge in. It was strange being there alone, in the middle of the day. I splashed around, contemplating the sudden change in my life, wondering how to ease my way into accepting its new shape with grace, and pleased by the undemanding physicality of cool water on bare skin.

When I arrived in Broken Hill to take up my teaching career, I went to professional training and suddenly found myself being asked to meditate, using a special place of calm to anchor me. I chose this bit of river, and suddenly found myself tearful and homesick.

The children have all gone away from the river now, except for Christmas visits. When they congregate, we lounge by the river, the grandchildren frolic with the dogs, and sometimes the kayaks are lifted off the roof and fishing lines are unreeled.

Sometimes the ageing parents (us) take chairs, glasses and a bottle of wine and sit in the reserve above the river as the stars come out, and the last light ripples in water darkening above the sand. Occasionally on a very hot night, we sit in the deep pool near the bridge and reminisce.

The river is the measure of the passing years.













Early Spring


As spring arrives, I take a few short walks near the house in the bush where I spend the weekend. What used to be a pleasant stroll through spotted gums, iron bark and burrawangs has become an edgy traipse through hacked-about bush, inexpertly burned. It is, after all, state forest.


On the border of destruction


The colours of early spring in this part of the bush are purple (hardenbergia vine), pale blue (dianella), yellow (a couple of species of eggs and bacon, and the unopened flowers of the geebung), white rising out of pink, and the reds and oranges and browny-maroons of fresh-growth tips.









I have no desire to revisit the ruination again on Sunday, so I walk through the reserve near the Tuross River. There, it is green under towering casuarinas, with the fading flowers of wattle, an infestation of blue periwinkle and the alien pink of peach blossom. The brown river moves along at a gurgle at the bottom of steep banks. Woven round the farm fence on the other side of the road are large pods of milk vine, bursting with white thistledown, and on the way back home yarding posts draped with native wisteria.











Yarn-bombing legacy



I always seem to miss the River of Art festival in Moruya. However, this year, the year of yarn-bombing, something tangible lived on beyond the festival. A long knitted panel in the colours of the sea is strung up outside Narooma library. Even yarn-bombing sceptics are impressed.













For a quick look at the scope of the River of Art watch a video and see the adventure of yarn-bombing unveiled in a humorous newspaper report




Three kinds of biography


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John at the Narooma Kinema provides a stunning program of art house movies in a small theatre in which I have been sole audience more than once. The theatre itself is a gem, with an Art Deco flavour, inside and out. It's on the National Heritage Register, and has been screening films since 1928.

Last weekend I created my own mini film festival at the Kinema – three movies in two days. All three movies were biographical in very different ways.



“Reaching for the moon” is the love story of Pullitzer prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares, who conceived and constructed Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro. They are very different creative people, Elizabeth shy and uncertain; Lota energetic and definite. At least at first. The background is the stunning hinterland of Rio de Janeiro; the instability of Brazilian politics; the adoption of a child; and the creative output of the two women. Lota's strength unravels when the Flamengo Park project stalls and Elizabeth leaves. She commits suicide, and Elizabeth goes on to greater glory.

There are many memorable scenes: Lota blowing up a hillside to create a studio with a view for Elizabeth; Elizabeth washing Lota's long hair against the background of an evolving poem; Lota totally involved on-site in the construction of the Park; Elizabeth chatting to Robert Lowell about her poetry by the lake in Central Park.

This is biography based on a novel based on two real lives, presented as drama, but the broad picture matches reality, insofar as such matching is ever possible.

I've encountered a sprinkling of Bishop's poems over the years in anthologies, always taking huge pleasure in their detail, vividness and thoughtfulness. You can enjoy them here

Click to access elizabeth_bishop_2004_9.pdf

The Paris Review interview with Elizabeth Bishop is worth reading too, for her own version of her liife.




“In search of Chopin” was a very different approach to biography. It revealed plenty about Chopin's life, but through the medium of his music and his letters, as he moved from Warsaw through Vienna to Paris. A number of the interviewees and performers were Polish, and the terrible history of Poland was in the background of his life and his music, even in the twenty years he lived elsewhere. I became quite homesick for Warsaw as images proliferated of places I was familiar with: the University; the second floor apartment where the family lived; the now-Presidential Palace where he performed; the Holy Cross Church where his heart is buried.



“Once my mother” is an astonishing movie, telling a number of stories quite beautifully and heart-wrenchingly. The director and script-writer, Sophie Tukiewicz, tells her mother's story as she tries to understand why her mother put her in an Adelaide orphanage for two years. Once her mother … was orphaned at a young age; put out to fend for herself in a Polish village; sent to a Siberian work camp by the Russian invaders (one of 2 million Poles this happened to); released when Russia joined the Allies; walked 4000 km through inhospitable country and weather to Tashkent; was moved to refugee camps in Persia and Northern Rhodesia; became pregnant to an Italian POW; and was finally accepted as a migrant to Australia.

The daughter struggled with this story for many years, fictionalizing bits of it in two earlier films, refusing to understand her mother's decision to put her in an orphanage. This time she tells the story raw and complete, using archival footage, some re-enactment, a visit to her mother's birth village, photographs of herself as she moves through her own life, and deeply poignant interactions between herself and her mother as they reconcile and talk about the life that shaped them both. It's a confessional biography of two people, and an account of a vast forgotten part of history.

Sophia Turkiewicz was at the Narooma Kinema at one showing of the movie to answer questions. I didn't go that night, which I regret with one part of me. However, I was so profoundly affected by the story, that at the end I didn't want words at all, just the chance to think.

It's one of the few movies I've seen that I'd like to own. It's worth listening to two interviews Turkiewicz gave on the ABC and having a look at the movie website.






My father


This week was my father's 100th birthday: he died twenty years ago.

Forced by the Depression to leave school before he completed his Leaving Certificate, he took over his older brother's job in a Coffs Harbour grocery shop to keep the wages in the family. I still have his Latin text book with his name in the front of it – Eric Dudley Davis. He never appeared to me as a reader until he retired, when he began to read massive nineteenth century novels by people like Trollope. It finally occurred to me that he didn't read because he didn't have time: he often worked two or three jobs so we could have the luxury of a university education.

He was a fireman with the NSW Fire Brigade for most of his working life. Eastwood fire station has recently celebrated it's 100th anniversary too: that's where my father spent his working life throughout my childhood. The station was opposite my primary school and this gave me a few moments of glory when my class crocodiled across Rowe Street to see what a fireman's job looked like. I was the daughter of the man in the brass helmet showing us the hose, setting the siren going, and ushering us one by one onto the front seat of the big red fire engine. The station cat, a grey tabby, curled his way amongst our chubby legs which ended in white socks and lace-up black shoes. Dad's bike was leaning against the wall out the back: he sold his car when he married and didn't own another one till he retired.

My childhood was shaped by fire brigade business. For a month each year, Dad did what was mysteriously called “country service”. He'd leave us to relieve at fire stations in places like Bingara and Barraba and Tamworth. Often he was away for my November birthday, fighting fires in the Blue Mountains: I still remember the disappointment I felt when he wasn't there at parcel-opening time. On Christmas Day his shift ended at 8 o'clock in the morning. “You can open one present now” said our mother, when we went rushing into her bedroom at daybreak. We waited in increasingly excited and frustrated anticipation for him to come home before we could tear the wrappings off the rest of those tantalising packages.

We rarely saw Dad. When he wasn't sleeping, getting ready for the next shift, he was moonlighting: delivering groceries, or cleaning up building sites, or labouring for my uncle. But sometimes we holidayed at Callala Beach, and there we relished nights around the kerosene lamp when Dad came into his own as a story teller. The drive down Dorrigo Mountain in an old truck without brakes, along a steep twisting dirt road through dense rainforest. The night during the war when he was supposed to meet mum to go to the movies and he slipped into his seat smelling of smoke as the film ended: while she'd been watching Humphrey Bogart, he'd been unloading ammunition from a lighter on fire on Sydney Harbour. The union meetings which he attended religiously, often the sole dissenting voice, because if he didn't attend he couldn't complain about decisions. The day when he crawled into a pipe where a man was trapped and died, because he wouldn't ask his men to do something he wasn't prepared to do himself.

He had his first heart attack while he was fighting a bushfire along the Lane Cove River. He didn't say a word for a week, because my sister was coming home from Western Australia with her fiancé and he didn't want to spoil the homecoming. He was relegated to an office job at Headquarters in Castlereagh Street after this: he hated it. He hated not being able to string out our house in the bush at Bodalla. He hated inaction when there was something to be done. However he was still able to ferry people to the shops and to church. That's how he spent his last day. At dinner time, he felt crook, and he died that night.





Black & white Sunday: One of a kind


This week I'll post a black and white photo, and follow Paula's theme. This is my younger daughter, the one who has provided me with twin grandchildren, and the opportunity to make frequent and extended visits to Poland. The one who cycled from Tokyo to Warsaw with her husband, after cycling all over the world often on her own: won the University Medal for linguistics: is training for a half marathon. And most admirable of all to me, as I struggle with basic greetings in that language, speaks fluent Polish.


Ròża at Gryżyna

I love black and white portraits. Unfortunately, most of them remain my private pleasure to protect the privacy of others. If my daughter objects, I can always touch blur her face.